Emídio Rosa de Oliveira Visual comprehension and colour temperature in Manuel Amado’s painting 1993

Text published in:
Magazine COLÓQUIO / Artes – number 96, Lisbon, March, 1993

At first sight, these paintings by Manuel Amado dazzle us with the luminous and manifest clarity of their framing. In them, we find neither formal overload nor decorativeness. Fluidity and depuration are the key concepts that open in these paintings a number of mnemonic spaces, so flooded with light that they project themselves upon a maritime exteriority that fills these images with luminescent atmosphere. We should only speak of what we see – without incurring the metaphors and rhetorical flights of description.  
To plainly "see” or describe these visions will not, of course, keep us from considering sensoriality as the sensible place that affects us throughout this visually powerful series of paintings.
To "see” leads to the horizon, but before reaching that point a whole spatial corporeality gains form on the picture plane. These nitid visions possess a quietude that is physical, not sentimental. Onto the canvas are fixed, by means of thin layers of paint, several simulacra of a world in the process of vanishing. The painter acts as a catalyst… "Painters do not forget, they fix; their memories function like an image open to all directions, where the eye searches for a centre while a mobility of centres floods in”1. In this painter, memory does not appear in the form of faces: his painting always develops in relation with the light and the various framings that delimit and dilate space.
In this painting, everything combines to allow light to transmute and distribute itself in the transparency of colour; the smoothness of the walls and the lustre that glides across the furniture highlight the polished quality of these images, whose depurated framings further extend their silent dialogue with light. "You paint in order to see better”2 — remembrance disengages itself from the ocular intensity of these paintings, which selectively evoke peace and the silent preservation of places. Before us, we have a visual ecology, something that does not surprise us, but rather highlights the refined qualities of Portugal’s atmospheric light, which has been used by several film directors in their work. This painting combines two impulses: the scopic, which, without resorting to the sharp focus of the hyper-realists, materialises on the canvas a "sensoriality of the hand”; and the cinematic, which cuts out space in accordance with the incorporeal ideality of light. These images are "exact images”, unaffected by any literary vagaries – they simply confirm in painting the architectural and auratic qualities of the places and recesses that the eye doubly revisits.   
The optics and geometry of the pictorial plane move side by side, developing a way of seeing that is in accordance with a glimpse through a half-opening. The atmosphere of these "theatres of memory”, circumscribed by a door frame or a window, generates a continual back-and-forth between the houses’ interior e the oceanic exterior of the landscape.  
Geometry, by means of its precise outlines in combination with the floods of light, develops a plastic volume of tangible tones. Under the effects of light, everything wavers; reality itself is transfigured through geometry’s eloquent and organised wisdom. Geometry operates as a sober art that delimits space by inscribing in it routes to see up close and from a distance. The pictorial gaze makes echo from painting to painting a mental reverie that evokes Fernando Pessoa’s lapidary phrase: "When I want to think, I see”3. For Manuel Amado, painting, as he himself states, "is made to be seen, and thus should fulfil the high expectations that underlie the action of seeing”. Painting, continues M. Amado, "is the most natural means man has to fix and transmit an image re-created by himself. It is also the most direct means in existence to depict reality, considering that reality is made by ourselves and thus its depiction is directly transmitted from mind to mind, without the interference of words”4.
Optics modulates the vision by lending it colour and transparence. The visual comprehension that emanates from these paintings is the result of combinations of sound and light, vibrating in a variety of frequencies. Silently, the air conveys an abstract sonority inside these spaces, whose visual effect perplexes us. These living rooms, corridors, corners and terraces of a "House above the sea” reveal the diaphanous transparence of a light that floats before us. We are about to intuit everything, without ever having been there: this "House above the sea” makes visible in painting the various moments and the enveloping whole of the atmosphere that defines the sensible temperature of a place.
The painting reveals, through multiple angles and viewpoints, the pictorial transformation of an itinerary of the eye within the painting. These images are not dependent on a reference, or a model the painter had to reproduce: they are imagined pictures, existing previously in the latent state of remembrance.

The wanderings of seeing

The diurnal regime of these visions exteriorises the image as a feeling of being there; the image is the place of an access, it moves without ever limiting the wanderings of seeing. We wander mentally, as the landscape changes and projects itself upon us and the transparence of the pictorial focuses hits the mind’s reflective screen. Perception acts as an interface. The visible and the invisible cling together, and the painter’s stance is the one of a seer who captures an impression, an affection associated with the ephemeral and tangible nature of places and objects:  

Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. [...] At present, people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them. They did not exist till Art had invented them.5

According to the above, art consists in securing a specific form of perception for the aesthetic object, bringing back to us the perception of what was invisible in its material purity. Chromatic visuality puts us in mind not of some naturalism, but of a utopia that primarily only exists in representation. The revealed ideality of a place may have an incidence and a relationship with known reality, but here it contains much more. When we look at a painting by Manuel Amado, we realise that paintings can so exceed the world that they become a model of it. Fiction becomes space in the picture, gaining colour and form within a frame that does limit, being rather a device where visibility is interiorised via the atmospheric dissolution of a colour or mood. The painter himself described such an impression to us:

I walk inside the empty house, entering every room and always going back to the corridor. Powerful patches of outside light glow amidst the cool shadows. A vague vestige of sea-air fills every nook; the calmness is feather-light. Framed in every opening to the outside, the horizon line is a constant presence that becomes vast and sumptuous whenever I walk onto the terrace.6

The painting defines a microclimate. These pictures incorporate a temperature that only the gaze can attain within the delimited but mutating space of a landscape. The ecological power of these images comes from the fact that they are aware of their being more than images; pictoriality changes them by disconnecting them from the environmental superficiality and mediocrity that infest the audiovisual market7. To "see” is dependent on the hierarchies and infinitesimal dosages of the chiaroscuro. What is fleetingly seen behaves like a fluid; colour is fluent, rather than solid. The visible colour is essentially born out of the combination of two lights, one incorporated into the opaque space and the other spread across the diaphanous space. The visible is captured through what A. Lhote called the "play of screens”8, which he defines as a series of oscillations, a ceaseless back-and-forth of values that only cancel themselves once they have conveyed to the viewer a feeling of depth: "la lumière n'éclairerait rien si rien ne lui faisait écran”9.                                                                                                                                                 
Images in painting are images that make themselves. They do not support any sort of discourse; their specificity consists in showing the superfluidity and bright clarity of a surface and leading us to "the unique essence of the actual place”10.
The painting reflects what was put in it, becoming a polished surface, the mental mirror of a physical transmutation. The sea is seen from the canvas and on the canvas. The painting, described by Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci as a glass wall, actually configures a two-dimensional plane on which the painter lays down an image. But, in a certain way, even though they make use of the laws of perspective, Manuel Amado’s paintings are not confined by the rigidity of the Renaissance "window”: the painting actually passes through the window and moves around within the mobile framing of the sight. The sea we view is not a photo-painting; it is a place that has been properly devised using the artist’s own skills and artifices of light and paint. These are portraits of light (moving pictures), not photo-stories. The precise imagery of these paintings is guided by an aesthetic will that amounts to a scarcity and a minimal selection of elements and an endeavour that delights in experimenting with light as a material, drawing from it, through drawing, incorporeal effects.  

The auratic places of memory

Each canvas is a meditation on the visibility and pictorial spatiality of the framing. To look at this painting presupposes awareness of the fact that its "seeing” never takes place outside the viewer’s sense of distances. In opposition to sculpture, "qui s'empare du visible, la peinture est un art de la distance. Elle marque une distance par rapport au réel... elle suppose une non-maîtrise, une non-possession de l'objet. Voir, c'est ne pas toucher, ne pas mettre la main sur l'image, ce qui dissiperait tout simplement le plaisir de voir et empêcherait de regarder"11.
The suspensive quality of these places keeps the viewer at a distance, at the proper distance perspective generates in order that composition and vision can become part of the order of the intelligible. As for the places, they are empty: what passes over them, via effects of resonance, is the visual echo of an image that is remembered and thus changed by time.   
"One must not express oneself as one feels, but as one remembers”12; these words, to me, seem to describe the painter’s attitude or stance. The place is not a preamble to some action that will unfold after the vision the painting offers of itself. It is a vacant place, exposed to the light and the reflexive return of its images. The presence of "extras” in the painting could only distract us from seeing what is there, that is, from viewing the space and the light as mere accessories to any scenography. The space and the horizon, the light and the plane: therein resides the sublime. It would be useless to credit these architectural or pictorial elements of the painting by subjecting them to the rhetorical power of a Figure. They convince us straightforwardly with their own compositional effects, the product of a remarkable pictorial and technical wisdom. The places’ auratic and photogenic dimension comes from the fact that they, in quite Proust-like terms and via the painter, manifest themselves in the style. Manuel Amado celebrates in painting Proust’s aesthetic insight: "II y a quelque chose d'individuel dans les lieux: les lieux sont des personnes”13.
Spectacularisation is achieved by means of colour and focusing, materialised in the precision and smoothness of the framings that set in motion the pictorial plane. The viewpoint occupies the subject’s vacant place, turning these places into imaginary planes that can generate, right ahead of the picture’s frontality, a melancholic mirage that is tied to the mortal nature of the inquiry into places.
The image is placed at the forefront, "as the agent of a new spatial organisation, but also as a vanishing point for the free vastness of the gaze”14. We stand before a "seeing” that provides much food for thought. While confronted with this painting, we are not led to think within the scope of the metaphysical hurt of being, but certainly driven to move within a metaphysics of being in peace, reclined on this deckchair, having as background the vast infinity that unfolds across the distant horizon.  
The painting begins with the surface; what we sense as form is actually solidly anchored in a space ruled by vertical and horizontal lines that structure the plane and by an economy of means that contribute to the luminous, clear enhancement of colours. These are not talkative paintings, driven by a rhetoric of intention; they are places of repose from which a "pensive aura” can be extracted. For a painting to exist, according to Focillon, "it must separate itself from intention, renounce thought and enter the expansion”15.
The optical refinement of these canvases and the incorporeal paths of light show that visibility is a sort of pictorial overspill that spreads across the whole surface of the painting. Shadow and light do not add themselves to colour, in order to generate splendour or relief; instead they interact with it, becoming tinted with it. The world that is returned to us is not rectified, but clarified: the painter turns the world into painting, and these visited places reflect the main principle of Oscar Wilde’s aesthetics, according to which life imitates art much more than art imitates life. "Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of, herself”16. Now, that notion is precisely what guides Manuel Amado’s painting. Imagination does not fit itself into a ready-made scenery; instead, it expands across the canvas, while perfecting new forms and uses for a light that floats in the whiteness of the walls and the drawn geometry of the floors. Sunlight does not overwhelm the objects. There is extreme care in the application of filters (windows and their panes) that change and capture, by means of subtle dosages, "that minimal interplay of inside and outside which the moulding action of the hand brings to the surface”17. While colour works on the surface, drawing generates the line. The dialogue between what the painter wants and what the painter does comes to a conclusion on the plane of what he offers to our sight. "The painting is a place, the image is in a place”18. The painting-window prevails here as a well-drawn architecture, without superfluous mannerisms or facile, "pretty” effects.
The scenographic approach and depuration rule these places, whose glow is due to the fact that they are extinct images, fated to disappear soon. Luckily, we have these paintings, whose atmospheric construction and visual reflection allow us to look at the canvas as a "descriptive surface”:  

La peinture n’est pas faite pour écrire-écrire des récits, des histoires. La peinture — est faite pour donner l’évidence que le monde s'est déposé de soi-même sur la surface, avec sa couleur et sa lumière, qu’il s’y est imprimé de soi-même: ce dont "la Vue de Delft" est un exemple parfait. — Delft est là, tout simplement, pour la vue.19

Scenography and the vanishing point of the world’s theatre

Pictorial scenography can only be conceived in relation to an abstract model, the model of perspective. It deals with transposing and projecting one view for one viewer. The mise-en-scène is a formal operator focused on the cosmetics and distribution of the ephemeral mobility of the lights and shadows that flood the space. While the scene is primarily a construction, scenography is first and foremost the art of drawing in perspective20 these constructions, and in general all types of inhabitable spaces.
Scaenographia comes to us through the theatre: at the moment of its emergence, that art was essentially used to paint the décors of Italian Renaissance stages. In Amado’s painting, scenography is not dramatized as action: what it brings to the scene, by means of framing and viewpoint, is the trajectory of the gaze that connects the viewer to the visual matters depicted on the canvas. The theatrical performance appears here as a framed, vertical view. If we are able to enter these metaphysical spaces, so free from all intimate psychologism, that is because the space always unfolds towards the window or the door. The horizon line inscribed in the canvas projects space into the distance, like a trajectory towards the light, which transmutes itself in the subtle plays of shadow and takes possession of the forms, just like the forms take possession of the space. The canvas gains a scenographic structure that is compatible with the osmosis and intermittent passages of light that open the interior to the outside. Standing still in front of these canvases, we contemplate, on the one hand, the oceanic and solar effect of these outside views, and on the other, the intimacy of the houses’ inner spaces, open to the mobility of the subjective gaze. We are confronted by a pictorial visuality that evokes various planes of physical closeness and enveloping distance, a permanent echo of the silence of places anchored in memory. These are time-images whose framing sets in motion that "oscillation which the eye perpetually performs between a shadow and a light”21. By means of its spatial unity, painting carves within itself an order of escape, led by a light that spreads inside the houses and becomes tangible in the way that the shadow sculpts the opaqueness of the objects depicted there. Not only does the shadow glide lightly over the objects, respecting their outline and forms, but it also enhances their volumes, highlighting their solid configuration.

L'ombre donne a voir et suscite ces formes instables qui ressemblent aux flocons de neige des objets fractals. Elle est une structure dissipative qui autorise tous les flux et sauts formels, tous les objets incertains qui irréalisent l'image et intensifient les visibilités.22

Though suggestive of a vaguely reflective mood, these pictures are not associated to the crepuscular gloom of Expressionism, nor to the literary and fantastic connotations of Surrealism. They do, however, display a number of contributions, influences and affinities that deserve to be mentioned here, in order to better understand the formal and pictorial traditions to which Manuel Amado’s painting belongs. It concerns the stylistic transformation he operates in his painting, drawing upon the consistent data he intelligently and knowledgeably extracted from some pictorial planes by Edward Hopper, and also the fascinated attention he always gave to the perspectival compositions and extended shadows in the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. This relationship with the pictorial languages of Hopper and de Chirico does not in any way reduce Amado’s originality; instead, it defines him and his painting as quite unique, while also placing them among a number of older and equally weighty influences, coming from the Italian artists of the Quattrocento, most particularly the architectural perspectives drawn by the genius of the schools of Piero or Laurana.
"Architectural structures played a considerable role in the art of the Quattrocento because they provided very good subjects for the application of the new methods for balancing the linear systems”23. Amado’s pictures are not the same as Hopper’s, but they do share some common ground: "This is the source of the calm and also of the detachment in Hopper’s work. It is as if the things in his paintings were seen behind glass.”24. Amado’s pictorial views are also characterised by a surprising detachment.
Typical of Hopper is the fact that none of his windows allow the viewer a glimpse of an interior. This melancholic sight is further enhanced by the colour of the sky, which dominates a large portion of the painting.  
Amado’s peculiar way of dealing with space and framing puts us in mind of Edward Hopper’s painting "Rooms by the Sea”. Strictly speaking, these paintings are time-images, to use Deleuze’s term, their creases created and smoothed out by the light in a ceaseless play of appearances and illusion. Manuel Amado’s painting, without incurring a metaphor, opens a door to seeing.

1. F. Molder, Jorge Martins, Imprensa Nacional, Lisboa 1984.
2. M.  Amado, Artes Plásticas, nº 12. Lisboa, 1991 (em entrevista).
3. F. Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego. Atica, Lisboa, 1982.
4. M. Amado, ob. cit.
5. O. Wilde, O declíneo da mentira. Vega, Lisboa, 1991.
6. M. Amado, Correspondência de Julho de 1992.
7. E. R. Oliveira, "As passagens intermitentes da luz na pintura de Manuel Amado”, in Artes Plásticas nº 18, 1992, p.21: "O pintor não se deixa contaminar pelos clichés da atualidade. Manuel Amado não confunde a visão com o visual. O visual tornou-se num valor comerciável numa forma caricata ditada por preceitos de moda e de circunstância”.
8. A. Lhote, Les invariants plastiques. Hermann, Paris, 1967.
9. P. Merleau, Résumés de cours. Gallimard/Tel, 1968.
10. M. Blanchot, O livro por vir. Relógio D’água, Lisboa, 1984.
11. J. Lichtenstein, Retour au desordre. Art press, nº 171, Paris, 1992.
12. M. Blanchot, ob. cit.
13. P. Poulet, L’espace proustien, Gallimard/Tel, Paris, 1992.
14. G. Vattimo, O fim da modernidade. Presença, Lisboa, 1987.
15. M. Dionísio, A paleta e o mundo, vol. 1. Europa-América, s.d. (citação)
16. O. Wilde, ob. cit.
17. J. Pomar, Da cegueira dos pintores. Imprensa Nacional, Lisboa, 1984.
18. Idem.
19. G. Hubermann, Devant l’image. Minuit, Paris, 1990 (cita Svetlana Alpers, " The Art of Describing”. The University of Chicago, 1983).
20. J. Aumont, L’oeil interminable. Seguier, 1989.
21. J. M. Floch, Les formes de l’empreinte. Pierre Fanlac, 1986.
22. C. Gluksmann, Tragique de l’ombre. Galilée, Paris, 1990.
23. P. Francastel, Peinture et société. Denoel/Gonthier, Paris, 1977.
24. R. Renne, Edward Hopper. Benedikt, Taschen, 1992.